Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell sought today to characterize his push for hearings on birthright citizenship as an educational exercise aimed solely at a small subset of wealy parents who enter the United States for the express purpose of having a child — a practice known as birth tourism.
In an interview with The Hill yesterday, McConnell said that a 14th Amendment provision granting citizenship to all infants born in the United States should be reviewed. “I haven’t made a final decision about it, but that’s something that we clearly need to look at,” he said. “Regardless of how you feel about the various aspects of immigration reform, I don’t think anybody thinks that’s something they’re comfortable with.” An aide to McConnell confirmed this with the Huffington Post. But today, McConnell denied that he was talking about all children born in the United States.
Today, McConnell told reporters at his weekly press conference that his comments were interpreted too broadly. “I read an article in the, I think, the Washington Post just about the business that’s been created overseas to acquire citizenship for newborns,” he said. “And I think having a hearing on that would be a good idea. I don’t know what the potential solution to it is. Obviously it’s a rather unseemly business and I think we ought to…take a look at it.”
McConnell appeared to be referencing a Washington Post article from earlier this month that described a business that helps well-heeled Chinese and Taiwanese couples give birth in the United State and return to their home countries the parents of a U.S. citizen for around $14,000. There was also an earlier, equally controversial Times of London article in June, reprinted without attribution by Laura Ingraham, in which it was reported that the Marmara Manhattan was offering “birth tourism” packages. Expectant women could, according to the article, pay $40,000 in hotel and medical fees to give birth in the United States to assure their children of U.S. citizenship. The Marmara Manhattan, which is owned by a European hospitality chain, refused to comment to TPMDC about the veracity of the article.
At his press conference today, McConnell declined to take a position on the broader issue of birthright citizenship.
“I think you can ask Senator [Lindsey] Graham to describe what he thinks the solution ought to be,” McConnell said. “The most urgent thing at the moment is to secure the border”
Graham touched off a hot debate over birthright citizenship by suggesting a change to the Constitution: “We should change our Constitution and say if you come illegally and you have a child, that child is automatically not a citizen.”
Asked about Graham’s position on on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl said, “there is a constitutional provision in the 14th amendment that has been interpreted to provide that, if you are born in the United States, you are a citizen no matter what…. And so the question is, if both parents are here illegally, should there be a reward for their illegal behavior?”
Kyl added, “I suggested to [Lindsey Graham] was that we should hold some hearings and hear first from the constitutional experts to at least tell us what the state of the law on that proposition is.”
Pressed today about whether he personally hopes to change the 14th Amendment, Kyl demurred.
“I don’t know,” Kyl said. “All I said was, when I was asked, that the first thing we would do is suggest holding some hearings with Constitutional experts to tell us what it means.”
“I have been told there’s case law on that. It clearly doesn’t apply to everybody,” Kyl added. “When you talk about making a political issue about it, I suggest that the political issue is intended by those who want to somehow cast any effort to learn about it as somehow inappropriate.”
Additional reporting by Megan Carpentier
[Ed. note: This post was edited to include reference to a Washington Post article on the subject.]
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.